“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward” (Vernon Law). It is no doubt to say that without experiences, people can not learn anything and become a better version of ourselves. Throughout our life, people have studied many lessons but the most memorable and impressive lesson is the one to be learned before dying. In the novel A Lesson Before Dying written by Ernest J. Gaines, the most important lesson illustrated in the novel is how the characters change their way in perceiving the community and the world thanks to experience. In the novel, this lesson is learned properly by all three characters including Grant, Jefferson, and Paul.
First of all, thanks to teaching and helping Jefferson, Grant has learned his own lesson about appreciating the other person. At the beginning of the novel, Grant is described as a well-educated teacher. After graduating from a university, he comes back to teach all the students in his hometown and this is the reason why he doesn’t respect anyone at all. Being asked by his aunt and Miss Emma to help Jefferson in transforming from “a hog” to “a man”, he answers “They never told me how to keep a black boy out of a liquor store” (Gaines 15). Calling Jefferson “black boy” – a term is usually used by white people just literally shows how he hates this society and the
place where he is living. Therefore, he hesitates to agree but because of his aunt and Miss Emma, he accepts to help them and visit Jefferson every day. Although Grant is a teacher, he is not actually interested in teaching and easily gets mad when his students do something wrong. Surprisingly, Grant talks and behaves oppositely to Jefferson. Every time visiting Jefferson in the jail, he patiently communicates with him, shows him his love and teaches him to become “a man” before sitting on that chair. As the time flown, Jefferson has gone deeply into Grant’s thoughts. After all Grant’s hardworking, he is successful in convincing Jefferson and becoming friends with him. On the day when Jefferson goes into that courtroom, Grant shows his appreciation by telling all his students to be on their knees and crying for his dear friend “I went up to the desk and turned to face them. I was crying” (Gaines 259). Turning from an arrogant and disbelief man, now Grant is crying for Jefferson which shows his respect and love for everyone around him and his community, also.
Secondly, not only Grant has learned something while teaching Jefferson, Jefferson also has a lesson for him before dying. At first, he thinks of himself as “a hog” without any thoughts or feelings. He just basically
follows what other people are making him to do. These actions are clearly shown throughout the description of the narrator: “He knelt down on the floor and put his head inside the bag and started eating, without using his hands. He even sounded like a hog” (Gaines 87). At this time, Jefferson just exists in his life like “a hog”. No pain, no gain, no happiness or sad happens to him. Everything has changed since he started talking with Grant. He starts to have humanity in himself. For example, he begins to share his thoughts, emotions. He even writes a letter in spite of many mistakes of grammar and spelling but it contains all of his love, respect, and hope for people whom he loves and worries about: “i seen how ole she look an how tied she look an i tol her i love her” (Gaines 239). These are one of the most charming words in the whole novel because it reflects completely the change in Jefferson’s mind. Now, Jefferson is obviously the “real man” as everyone expects though Paul’s speech: “He was the strongest man in that crowded room, Grant Wiggins” (Gaines 257). At last, the image of “a hog” disappears and is replaced by the appearance of the real man who actually walks to that chair. Instead of being scared in front of the crowd before, now Jefferson has learned how to be confident and shows his love to people that he significantly cares about.
Lastly, despite not being mentioned as many time as the two main characters Grant and Jefferson, Paul still makes some impressive memory to the readers by the way he learns and alters opinion about the community. Paul seems like the only white who doesn’t have any racism to Jefferson and other characters in the novel. At first, it is clearly seen that Paul is a normal deputy just like the others, doing his job as checking their bags whenever they come to visit Jefferson but at the end, he completely changes. He breaks all the rules and also the barriers between the white and the black people in the society at that time. He suggests being friend with a black man: “Allow me to be your friend, Grant Wiggins. I don’t ever want to forget this day. I don’t ever want to forget him” (Gaines 259). In addition, Paul also shows his appreciation to both Grant and Jefferson. He says that he doesn’t want to forget Jefferson which means that Jefferson has now played an important role in his heart. He has no more discrimination between the white people and the African-American people since he realizes that each person has their own true value and he can’t judge them just depend on skin color, gender or nationality.
In conclusion, it is true to say that in the whole people’s life, each of them has to overcome many difficulties and therefore, many lessons are learned during that long time. However, it is believed that the lesson before dying or someone’s death is the most significant. In the novel A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines has demonstrated the most important lesson which is the way people change their mind about their life, society after some valuable experiences. This lesson is showed clearly throughout three characters Grant, Jefferson and Paul in the novel. In the end, although Jefferson still has to face to the death but the change of Paul represents as a hope for the elimination of racism in the future.
Gaines, Ernest J. A Lesson Before Dying.